This is a set of science fiction stories written by Leigh Brackett, collected and edited by her husband, Edmond Hamilton. (Brackett edited a similar collection of his best stories.) The book was sent to me by a friend, when I started talking about trying to read some of the earlier SF writers.
This is a marvelous book. Ms. Brackett was such a skilful story writer. I would start a new story, thinking, "I'm not sure I'm really interested in this," and by the time I was done I'd be thinking, "That was so! good! I'm so sorry it's over!"
The stories are a little dated, since they are set on a Mars, Venus, and Mercury that were imagined before humanity actually got to those planets to discover what's really there. (For example, Venus is a very humid world, with vast oceans encircling its few land masses.) But this is, after all, science fiction, so that doesn't matter very much. One might use the term "speculative fiction" instead, if it feels more comfortable.
The point is that these are Real Stories. They have a beginning, middle, and end. They start with a problem, have a protagonist, and work through to a conclusion. They are not, as another friend has called them, "mere vignettes," which is what a lot of short stories are these days. I don't mind the "vignettes" too much, but sometimes it's good to get back to stories that really go somewhere and have a point.
Aside from that fact -- that they're Real Stories -- there are the plots themselves. One forgets just how many things there are to speculate about, in science fiction. What a mind Ms. Brackett had, to conceive of so many scenarios, so many different creatures with such believable histories.
I think that's one thing that's often missing from current science fiction. In the earlier writing, the sky was truly the limit -- and it was limitless. Even when an individual story ended sadly, the whole genre was about possibility. It wasn't nearly so pessimistic as everything is today.
This was real Adventure. You finish these stories feeling invigorated.
I'm so glad I read this. Now I'm going to hunt down as much more Leigh Brackett material as I can find.